Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash of Canada intervenes as Kobe Bryant berates Metta World Peace for committing a foul during their NBA game in Los Angeles

Lakers continue to build chemistry, move into the playoff picture with win over Bulls


LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s plenty more work to be done over the regular season’s final 18 games. But for the first time all year, the Lakers can look at the standings and see themselves as an official part of the playoff picture after Sunday’s 90-81 win over the Bulls at Staples Center.

The Lakers are now 33-31 on the season, and sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz.

In Friday night’s win over the Raptors, the Lakers needed several shots that were both miraculous and heroic from Kobe Bryant down the stretch to come back and get the overtime victory. They didn’t need much from him offensively in this one, however, thanks to a balanced attack and a strong third quarter from Steve Nash, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the period.

Bryant didn’t even reach double figures in scoring until he hit a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining in the third quarter, which pushed the Lakers lead to 15. He finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists, while five of his teammates finished in double digits.

The Bulls are not known for their offense, and struggled to score in this one. Chicago shot a dismal 37.1 percent from the field, and went just 4-16 from three-point distance. But the defensive effort from the Lakers was stronger than usual, led by an increasingly more active Dwight Howard, whose 21 rebounds helped L.A. dominate the Bulls on the glass for most of the contest.

Chicago was able to cut a lead that once reached 18 points down to eight with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Lakers responded by scoring the next five points, while holding the Bulls scoreless for the next three and a half minutes.

More important than this single game victory and the temporary playoff position that it earned the Lakers is the improved chemistry the team is showing on the court. The communication was constant in this one defensively, with players giving their all on loose ball and rebound opportunities, while the body language overall was genuinely positive. The change from the way these guys interacted with each other in the opening months of the season is both noticeable and substantial.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bumps along the way — Bryant was furious with Metta World Peace at the end of the first half, after he committed an offensive foul while Bryant was dribbling down the clock to get off a final shot. He yelled at Metta as the two walked back down the floor, but all was forgiven later when Bryant was seen with his arm around his teammate on the bench early in the fourth.

The extent of how much Howard can improve from a health standpoint as the Lakers close out the regular season, along with the amount of chemistry the team can continue to build during that time will largely determine its postseason fate.

Winning can cure a lot of issues, and certainly helps the team-building a lot more than it hurts. At least after Sunday’s victory, L.A. can now, if only briefly, officially see itself as part of the playoff picture.

More Collective Bargaining Agreement details emerging

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are on track for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon, and details are emerging about the new deal.

Here are some more.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

There is currently not enough support for an amnesty clause among NBA owners as they continue negotiations for a new deal with the National Basketball Players Association, sources told ESPN.com.

Under the new deal, players are expected to be able to sign contract extensions two years after the date of their original signing. Currently, they have to wait three years.

Restricted free agents also will be able to agree to offer sheets with teams starting on July 1 instead of waiting until July 7. The window for teams to match these offer sheets will be reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours.

Also, teams will no longer be able to pull qualifying offers to restricted free agents, as is currently allowed before July 31.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA Development League will offer teams the chance to add 16th and 17th roster spots, and pay players differently based upon their assignments in either the league’s minor league or as part of the parent team, league sources said.

I’m unsurprised the new CBA won’t include an amnesty clause. When the salary cap rapidly escalated under the new national TV contracts, it made it very difficult to find onerous contracts. The few teams with amnesty-worthy deals probably can’t convince other owners to approve an amnesty clause. The other owners don’t want to give a small minority of teams a competitive advantage. Though amnesty is good for players – amnestied players still get paid and then have the freedom to choose a new team, and it creates an immediate job opening – not enough of them would benefit to push this.

Allowing contract extensions sooner can be helpful, but it doesn’t get to the crux of why the current CBA made veteran extensions too prohibitive. Extensions can add only a maximum of three years to a contract. Too often, players prefer to wait for free agency, when the max contract length is four or five years.

I’m unsure what it would look life if only restricted free agents, not unrestricted free agents, can sign July 1. There has been talk of eliminating the moratorium, though the feasibility of doing so is questionable. Windhorst doesn’t address unrestricted free agents, but omitting them suggests their status won’t change – but I’m skeptical. If restricted free agents can sign before unrestricted free agents, will teams rush to sign players to offer sheets and fill cap space before unrestricted free agents become available? That’s essentially the opposite of the current system. Reducing the matching window is good. Teams used to have seven days to match an offer sheet, but contract details are no longer relayed through standard mail and fax. With the instantaneousness of the internet, there’s no need to hold people in limbo even three days.

Keeping qualifying offers binding is another good move. I’m honestly surprised the league has avoided a dispute over whether a player accepted a qualifying offer before it was pulled. This change removes the possibility of a squabble and puts a fair onus on a team to stand by its qualifying offer. If you’re going to make a player a restricted free agent, you shouldn’t have the right to cool the market on him and then pull his qualifying offer only once conditions change.

Additional NBA roster spots are not my preferred direction for greater D-League integration, but perhaps it’s the best bridge. NBA teams will pay D-League players more if those teams get exclusive rights on the players. Because players on D-League contracts are NBA free agents, no matter which affiliate they’re on, NBA teams have little incentive to pay major money to D-Leaguers. I’d prefer NBA teams hold the NBA rights of everyone on their D-League affiliate, but not  every team has an affiliate. Perhaps, once that changes, this system will be tweaked. This solution is fine for now.

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms

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The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.

51 Questions: Which team will win the East? Make playoffs?

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, workers finish hanging a mural of Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James on a building in Cleveland. The colossal LeBron James banner is getting a small _ but significant _ upgrade.
The iconic, 10-stories-tall mural is being removed this week and replaced with a new one that includes a gold patch of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the back of James’ uniform to represent the Cavaliers winning the NBA title last season to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.
The new banner is expected to be installed by Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
Associated Press

It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pacers
5. Pistons
6. Wizards
7. Hornets
8. Bulls

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

On the one hand, the East is not that interesting: It’s Cleveland then everyone else. The only question is do they have enough of a championship hangover that Boston or Toronto can catch them in the regular season? That question will be moot in the playoffs, Cleveland is in its own class out East. However, what is interesting is that spots 4 through 12 could go almost any direction — I have the Hawks, Knicks, Bucks, and Magic out of the playoffs, but any of them could make it if their season comes together (the Hawks, in particular, are hard to leave out, but I believe they downgraded at point and center). I’m higher on the Pacers than most, but I wonder about their defense. I think teams 4-12 will all win between 36-46 games, it’s going to be a tight bunch with health and other small factors deciding who is in and who is out.

Dan Feldman

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pistons
5. Wizards
6. Hawks
7. Hornets
8. Pacers

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

Cleveland is in the top tier on its own, though it’s quite conceivable someone else passes them in the regular season. Boston and Toronto occupy the next group. Then it’s everyone else — including maybe the Bulls, Bucks and maybe even Magic. The difference between homecourt advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely is slim, especially with Reggie Jackson‘s injury destroying my confidence in Detroit as the No. 4 seed.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Hornets
5. Bulls
6. Pistons
7. Wizards
8. Hawks

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

The real question in the East isn’t about the Cavaliers, but about the two teams projected to finish below them in the Celtics and Raptors. Yes, Toronto has more experience, and they should have a healthy DeMarre Carroll, but losing Bismack Biyombo is big, especially so as Boston added Al Horford. Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star, Brad Stevens looks like a great coach, and I think the Celtics take the No. 2 in the regular season. Then again, I’m also taking the Raptors experience in the playoffs, so maybe I’m hedging.

Report: Timberwolves ask Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, who could be available in trade

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves are looking to trade a point guard or two.

The Cavaliers are looking to trade for a point guard or two.

Could it be a match?

Shumpert seems like Cleveland’s most likely trade bait, and Minnesota – dangling Tyus Jones and maybe soon Ricky Rubio – is apparently interested.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert. Several teams, including Minnesota, have inquired about his availability in the past few weeks and gotten the impression Cleveland is ready to talk, according to several league sources. The Cavs won’t salary-dump Shump for nothing, but given their tax situation, cutting payroll by a few million promises exponential savings.

Shumpert is more valuable than Jones, less valuable than Rubio. Draft picks and/or other players can bridge the gap in any deal, but neither point guard makes much sense in Cleveland. Rubio is too good to back up Kyrie Irving. Jones is not proven enough to be significantly more dependable than Kay Felder.

What could make a lot of sense: A team trades for Rubio, displacing its current point guard, who goes to the Cavs in a three-way trade. With the Kings a known Rubio suitor, Darren Collison could fit in Cleveland – at least after his eight-game suspension. Similar iterations could work with other teams that have a decent point guard but want to upgrade to Rubio.